Happy Halloween - Pumpkin Beer Tasting

Sunday, 23 October 2016

I've never been the hugest fan of Halloween; I mean I've never had anything against it but when growing up in deepest Somerset in the 80's and early 90's Halloween just wasn't a big thing. We didn't trick or treat, we didn't really do Halloween parties and any fancy dress was often just tagged onto the fireworks celebrations.

But as our culture has become more heavily influenced by America, Halloween has definitely gained some traction in the UK. Shops are stocked up with spooky items from September onwards, pubs and clubs have massive themed nights and supermarkets are full of frightening foodstuffs. Everywhere you look you'll see skeletons, ghosts and zombies. We're not even having a Halloween party in our house yet I'm writing this with a huge hanging paper spider poised above me!

And then there's pumpkins. I've often enjoyed the annual carving but pumpkins for eating have never had the same popularity in this country as in The States. But now you can't walk up any high street without seeing numerous coffee shops selling seasonal Pumpkin Spice Lattes and websites, TV shows and magazines are full of recipes so that you can utilise the flesh leftover from your lantern carving.

I guess is stands to reasons then that the brewing industry would get involved and certainly in America at this time of the year there are a plethora of Pumpkin Ales to sample, a few of which are now making it over here to stand alongside the few offerings from UK producers.

So when in Bitter Virtue yesterday I picked up three different Pumpkin Ales to taste, to try and work out if the fuss was justified and to see whether it was a flavour combination that I could get on board with.

Beer Name: Stingy Jack Spiced Pumpkin Ale

Beavertown, London, England

Date Sampled: 23rd October 2016

ABV: 7.2%

Serving Type: Can

Location Sampled: Home

It has an attractive appearance in the glass with a cloudy coppery-amber hue and a small white head.

The nose is intriguing and with the nutmeg and cinnamon notes almost feels like your sniffing a mulled cider.

But then the mouth feel is slightly disappointing, with it bordering on the thin and oily. The taste left me a little muddled; the first sip suggested that this would be a complex and nuanced ale, with delicate cinnamon and a slight sweetness giving way to nutmeg, pumpkin and then a slight tartness. Then just as I was expecting the flavour to keep developing…. Nothing.  Just a slightly medicinal aftertaste that reminded me of red aftershock.

Had the beer developed as I’d hoped after the first impression then we could’ve been looking at a great autumnal drink; that initial ‘mulled cider like’ hit was comforting and I actually found myself wondering how this would fair if it were slightly warmed through. But then the lack of body and depth left me feeling cold and in hindsight, it was not an ale that I enjoyed.

This is the first Beavertown  effort that I’ve not lapped up and whilst I applaud the efforts to turn out something seasonal and different, this Pumpkin Ale is just not for me.


Beer Name: Pumpkin King

Brewdog, Aberdeenshire, Scotland

Date Sampled: 23rd October 2016

ABV: 5.5%

Serving Type: Bottle

Location Sampled: Home

This is a very appealing drink to look at; it is a clear coppery caramel colour with a white head.

It has a slightly floral nose, the hops are more evident than in Beavertown’s effort and there is a marshmallow sweetness working alongside the spices.

It’s actually pretty easy drinking; it’s a surprisingly light brew, with slight citrus notes cutting into the hops. The light carbonation gives it a mouthfeel not unlike a lager and it slips down pretty easy, leaving you with a slightly earthy after taste. The spices evident in the nose are harder to find in the taste but they are there.

I’m not sure what I was expecting with these pumpkin beers but this wasn’t it. Pumkin King does offer an unusual taste profile and is pleasant enough but if I hadn’t known before that it was a pumpkin ale then I certainly wouldn’t have guessed. It’s a great bit of marketing and is definitely a drinkable ale, but next Halloween I won’t be killing myself to get hold of another bottle.


Beer Name: The Gourd Standard Pumpkin IPA

Flying Dog Brewery, Maryland, USA

Date Sampled: 23rd October 2016

ABV: 6.7%

Serving Type: Bottle

Location Sampled: Home
If there’s one thing you can say about all three of these pumpkin ales is that they all look great. This Pumpkin IPA from Flying Dog is the lightest in colour, but it still has the redness that has been consistent throughout this test. It’s another clear brew with a small head which dissipates quickly.
The nose is relatively delicate; the combination of candyfloss, ginger and cinnamon bringing back memories of funfairs, canivals and bonfires.
The difference between this and the other two pumpkin ales tasted here is that the base IPA in this brew is clearly evident; in my eyes it is the one that feels most like a good beer first with pumpkin then added to it. So whilst the pumpkin taste is evident, the dominant flavours are the hops, malt and then a good dose of bitterness. There is sweetness there, along with the pumpkin spice, but it is gently done and does not overpower what is a pretty good IPA.
Out of the three, I think this is the only one I would have again but, after tasting three different incarnations, it is safe to say that pumpkin ale is never going to be one of my favourite flavour styles. With so many good beers out there to try and so many flavour combinations that do work (hello coffee and stout!) I don’t think I’ll ever get to the stage that I pick a pumpkin beer over another, even if it is the 31st October!

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